Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin‘s film takes its title from the U.S. state of New Hampshire’s motto, “Live Free or Die.” The film is a deadpan comedy about a clueless, aspiring criminal named John “Rugged” Rudgate (Aaron Stanford), who spends his days forging rebate coupons and selling speakers out of the back of his van. “Rugged” runs into an acquaintance one day (Paul Schneider) who recently returned home to help his cynical sister (Zooey Deschanel) run a storage facility they inherited from their father. It doesn’t take long for “Rugged” to try and move his way into the family enterprise, but things go wrong, and the situation is exacerbated by the meddling of an unstable cop (Michael Rapaport). “Live Free or Die” won the competition award at the 2006 SXSW Film Festival and the New American Cinema Award later that year at the Seattle fest. THINKFilm currently has the film in limited release.
Please introduce yourselves…
Andy Robin: I grew up in Connecticut and now live in Rhode Island with my family. I’ve been writing for a living since college, almost always with Gregg and mostly TV stuff.
Gregg Kavet: I grew up outside Boston and now live in Los Angeles with my family. I was involved in publishing before writing professionally with Andy, and we have worked together now for about 12 years.
Filmmaking was very much an escape from the TV machine. “Live Free or Die” was a script we did to amuse ourselves, to remind us what we liked about writing. We felt comfortable talking to actors but, before production, read a bunch of technical books. In the end, were helped hugely by our Director of Photography, Harlan Bosmajian, who walked through scenes with us in the weeks before the shoot. We generally generally tried to get out of the way of our experienced crew and let them do their thing.
How did the idea for your film come about?
The initial concept for the film came from trying to understand why there always seem to be people selling speakers out of vans in New England towns. Both of us had repeatedly been approached with these “hot” bargains, and the film was an attempt to create a persona that fit this lifestyle.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?
Like many independent films, development was a long and difficult process. More than once we thought we had secured financing, only to have it fall through due to reasons far beyond our control. Eventually, we faced a situation where actors were unable to commit until we had a schedule, [while] financiers were unwilling to commit until we had actors locked up, and nothing could proceed without the financing. One of our producers, John Limotte, eventually broke this gridlock by announcing that we were shooting at the beginning of November. With his bluff, actors and then financing fell into place and we could finally proceed with the film.
What are your biggest creative influences?
We’re big fans of “Fargo” and “Bottle Rocket.” Their funny moments are all the funnier because those films don’t scream “comedy.” In many ways, “Live Free or Die” is an exercise in what would happen to the bad guys from “Fargo” (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) had the story been all their own.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
It’s a spectrum. The cheaper it is, the more indie. The longer it took to get it made, the more indie. The harder it is to fit the premise in a title or poster or 30-second commercial, the more indie. Extra bonus points if you hit up more than 20 friends and family for money and favors. Automatic disqualification for sequels.
How do you define success as a filmmaker?
Our definition of success with this film focused on the process. The film was always an attempt to be true to ourselves by removing the constrictions of television networks or studio executives from the final product. While we always hoped the film would be appreciated by others and be seen by a wider audience, simply executing something where we were responsible for all decisions, good and bad, made for a successful experience.